top of page
  • solarastills

Japan - A 6-Day Travel Itinerary

Updated: Oct 17, 2023

Welcome to my travel blog about Japan, a country known for its unique blend of ancient traditions and modern innovations. Join me on a journey through the Land of the Rising Sun as we explore the bustling cities, serene countryside, and rich cultural heritage that make Japan such a fascinating destination.

From the neon-lit streets of Tokyo to the tranquil gardens of Kyoto, Japan offers a wealth of experiences that are sure to captivate and inspire. Whether you're interested in sampling the local cuisine, immersing yourself in traditional arts and crafts, or simply taking in the stunning natural scenery, there is something for everyone in this vibrant and dynamic country.

With just six days, we'll make the most of our time in Japan and create memories to last a lifetime. So sit back, relax, and let's get started on this exciting adventure!



 

>> Got a question about this itinerary that you need answered quickly? DM me on Instagram @SolaraStills and I’ll be happy to help! I only accept DMs from followers, so hit the follow button before sending.

 



When To Go

If interested in seeing the sakuras (cherry blossoms) like we did, mid March to early April is the best time to visit Japan. The peak cherry blossom week changes from year to year and region to region. Starting in early January, there are a number of websites that accurately predict peak season. Check these websites before finalizing your travel dates. The weather is also very mild during sakura season, with temperature highs averaging in the mid 60s.

Another big attraction to visit Japan is to hike up Mt.Fuji. The climbing season is from early July to early September, when the hiking trails open up. Although this is peak tourist season, this is also the time when the entire country is sweltering hot, with hurricane season starting in September. Another popular time to visit this magical country is mid October to late November, to see the amazing fall colors dotting the hills and mountains of Japan.


Vegetarian Food In Japan

What you have heard is true - it is not easy to find restaurants that serve vegetarian food in Japan. Although restaurants may claim that they have vegetarian noodles, please note that almost all noodles are soaked in a fish stock called Dashi by default. When on the go, it is extremely hard to find a vegetarian restaurant that serves Japanese food without dashi in it. The one exception is Tan Tan, which is a vegan outlet, located in 3 or 4 of the metro stations in Tokyo. We made it a point to visit the hard-to-find location in Tokyo station, and we were pretty happy with the golden sesame noodles that we ordered. Do give Tan Tan a try, if you are seeking vegetarian Japanese food.

Even pasta and pizza places are hard to come by. One night our dinner consisted of McD fries and apple pie! However, on most days, we were lucky enough to find an Indian restaurant close by, both in Tokyo and Kyoto. So a tip here is to make a note of vegetarian restaurants close to a tourist attraction, and plan your visit around lunch or dinner time. All 6 days we were in Japan, we made do with 1 meal a day, compensating other meals with snacks, pastries and coffee from the vending machines. By the way, Japan has the most amazing looking pastries. They have mastered the art of window displays, and it is hard to just ogle at the displays, and not go in to buy one.


Language Problems

Language was never a problem wherever we went in Japan. Local folks either spoke good or broken English, or understood what we were trying to communicate and would respond back with hand gestures. We never found a need to use Google Translate. Most signs in the touristy areas and in the stations were both in English and Japanese.


Japan Arrival Formalities

Whether you arrive in Narita or Haneda airport in Tokyo, there are a number of formalities to take care of, before heading into the city.

  • As of April 2023, all visitors to Japan are required to complete the digital forms at Visit Japan Web for Immigration and Customs requirements. Obtaining a QR Code on this site, prior to arriving in Japan, is crucial for a fast and easy immigration process.

  • To travel within Japan, it is essential to have a JR Pass (Japan Rail Pass). Use this link to check if JR Pass is worth the money for your itinerary. It definitely helped save $$$ for the itinerary I have listed here. This needs to be ordered online atleast a month prior to your travel date, so the voucher for the pass can be delivered to your home address. There are numerous reliable websites that sell JR Pass. Look for one that does not charge any shipping fee. You can also book some of the popular train routes (eg. the Fuji Express), while you are in the US. Once you arrive in Japan, and clear immigration and customs, head to the JR Pass office, located both in Narita and Haneda airports, and exchange the voucher for an actual pass. Be prepared for long lines at the JR Pass office, as many tourists like you will have the same plan to have the pass in hand before starting their Japan sojourn. You can also get confirmed tickets for any train journey you had booked online.

  • Another useful card/pass to have is the Suica or Pasmo card. You will need one of these ALONG with your JRPass. ie. the latter will not substitute for the former. Suica and Pasmo can be used as a commuter pass in most major Japanese towns, as well as for small purchases in convenient stores and vending machines throughout Japan. Both cards can be easily added on to your iphone wallet. If you are an android user, then you need to purchase these cards at the station within the airport before you catch your first metro train.

  • Another wonderful convenience available in Japan is luggage delivery. If you want to start your sightseeing straight out of the airport, you can use the luggage delivery service to forward your luggage to your hotel, while you check out the town and check into your hotel at the end of the day. Yamato is a popular and reliable luggage delivery service, with convenient kiosks located both in Narita and Tokyo airports.

  • Japan is a cash-friendly country. We were able to withdraw Yen from conveniently located ATMs everywhere we went. We mostly used cash in the mom and pop stores, credit cards at big stores and restaurants, and suica/pasmo cards at vending machines.



Tokyo

Once you have cleared all of the above formalities, its time to finally hit Tokyo and explore. With a complex and well planned Metro system, almost all parts of Tokyo are accessible by the subway system. Multiple subway lines pass through the two airports, making it easy to get into the city.


Where To Stay

There are many hotel and location options in Tokyo. Most tourists stay in Shibuya or Shinjuku, which are the main tourist hubs in the city. As for the hotels, option range from ryokans to temple hotels to capsule hotels, with the latter being the cheapest. We did not get adventurous, and stayed at the Tobu Hotel in Asakusa, just two minutes walk from the most popular tourist attraction in Tokyo, the Senso-ji Shrine. Located across from the Tobu Asakusa station, it is centrally placed for shopping, sightseeing and dining. The hotel rooms are beautifully appointed with modern utilities, although the rooms are slightly small in size, when compared to their American counterparts. The rooms can be booked with or without breakfast, which consists of Japanese and western dishes. I highly recommend this hotel for your stay in Tokyo, as long as you are not traveling with large suitcases, as they can make the room feel cramped.



Day 1

Having arrived in the city from Haneda airport, we took the first day to acclimatize ourselves to the surroundings, and the Tokyo metro system which seemed very overwhelming at first.


Senso-Ji Temple

A stones throw away from our hotel was the spectacular Senso-Ji Temple. Staying so close, we had the opportunity to view the temple during the daytime as well as at night, when it was illuminated. This temple is the oldest Buddhist shrine in Tokyo, and most photographed. The temple was built in the honor of Kannon, the goddess of mercy. As we entered the temple complex via the main gate, the Kaminarimon Gate, we were welcomed by a giant red lantern, behind which lies a long stretch of shops, which lead to the main temple. These shops on Nakamise shopping street sell traditional souvenirs, snacks and sweets. There are many kimono rental shops along this stretch and we noticed a number of women, locals and foreigners alike, clad in kimonos, window shopping. For a history of the area, we followed this audio walking tour, which costs $7 to download at the time of writing. Expect to spend atleast 2 hours to visit Senso-Ji Shrine and browse the shops along Nakamise street. Although the temple opens early at 6am, the shops do not open until 10am. So plan your visit accordingly.

Entrance to SensoJi temple with the huge red lantern at the gate


Sensoji Temple, by day and by night

Nakamise shopping street by day, and by night.


Sumida Park Cherry Blossoms

If you are in Tokyo during cherry blossom season, then Sumida Park is one of the prime areas to visit to view the sakura. Just a two minute walk from Tobu hotel, the park runs along the Sumida River and is lined with hundreds of cherry trees. An early morning walk to view the blossoms in all their splendor as the sun rises, or a late evening walk to see the trees illuminated, is a must. The view of the Tokyo Skytree from the Sumida Park Promenade is quite spectacular.

Cherry blossoms along Sumida River, with Tokyo skytree in the background.


Tokyo Skytree at sunrise.




Day 2

Meiji-Jinju

Meiji Jingu is a Shinto shrine located in Tokyo, dedicated to Emperor Meiji and his wife, Empress Shoken. Surrounded by a serene forest of over 100,000 trees, Meiji Jingu offers visitors a peaceful oasis in the heart of the bustling city. The shrine's main building, made of Japanese cypress and copper roofing, reflects the blend of traditional Japanese and Western influences during the Meiji era. The massive torii gate made of 1,500-year-old cypress wood marks the entrance to the shrine, and the treasure museum houses a collection of artifacts related to Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken, as well as gifts from other countries. Meiji Jingu is not only a popular tourist destination but also a living shrine actively used by the local community for ceremonies and events, making it an important cultural landmark in Japan. We signed up for this Viator Walking Audio Tour to learn more about this beautiful shrine and its history.

Meiji-jinju shrine

Harajuku

Very close to the Meiji Jinju Shrine is Harajuku, a vibrant and trendy neighborhood located in the Shibuya district of Tokyo. It is known for its fashion-forward youth culture, which blends elements of Japanese street fashion, cosplay, and Western styles. The area is also home to many small independent boutiques, cafes, and art galleries. Takeshita Street, a pedestrian-only street in Harajuku, is particularly famous for its colorful storefronts and unique fashion offerings. We were shocked by how crowed Takeshita Street was, with hardly any walking room. But it was definitely a neat experience to see a different face of Tokyo with the young, trendy teens enjoying street food and sweet treats.


The extremely crowded Takeshita Street.


Little girls enjoying sweet treats on Takeshita Street.


Meguro River Cherry Blossom Promenade

Meguro River Cherry Blossom Promenade is a popular destination in Tokyo, during the spring season when the cherry blossoms bloom. The Meguro River runs through several neighborhoods of Tokyo, and the promenade stretches along its banks, offering visitors a scenic stroll under a canopy of pink and white blossoms. The trees are illuminated at night, creating a magical and romantic atmosphere. The Meguro River Cherry Blossom Promenade attracts locals and tourists alike and is a beloved symbol of springtime in Tokyo.

Meguro River Cherry Blossom Promenade

A canopy of Cherry blossoms


A castle peeks through the cherry blossoms along Meguro River.

Shibuya Crossing

Shibuya is a bustling district in Tokyo, akin to New York's Time Square, famous for Shibuya Crossing, also known as "The Scramble". This world-famous massive pedestrian crossing, has an average of 2,500 people cross every time the lights change. The sheer number of people crossing at once is an impressive sight and has made the intersection an iconic landmark in Tokyo. The surrounding area is a popular shopping and entertainment district, and the crossing is surrounded by large billboards and screens displaying advertisements. The best way to experience Shibuya Crossing is from the windows of the first floor of Shibuya Starbucks. It is particularly breathtaking at night when the surrounding buildings are lit up, creating a vibrant and electric atmosphere. Another popular attraction in this area are the multiple 3D billboards, specifically the Hachiko dog billboard which runs at the top of the hour in front of Shibuya station. We spent an entire hour gawking at the numerous vibrant billboards that flank Shibuya Crossing.

Shibuya Crossing and 3D billboard



Day 3

Mt Fuji

One of the top bucket list items for anyone visiting Japan is to view and photograph Mt Fuji in all its majesty. The three top locations from which to view Mt Fuji are Lake Kawaguchiko (Fuji Five Lakes area), Hakone and the Chureito Pagoda. It is an easy day trip from Tokyo, on the Fuji Express shinkansen. But bear in mind, since this is an extremely popular route, tickets get booked months in advance.

Right from the start, we were unsure if we should make the trip to Mt Fuji, for two reasons : firstly, there is only a 40-50% chance of seeing the peak, without any cloud cover, and almost always the clouds engulf the mountain by 11am.. Secondly, given this probability we did not think it was wise to spend the entire day for the trip, when we had so little time to spend in Tokyo. We soon realized that Chureito Pagoda location would best serve our dilemma, as that location provided the most iconic view of Fujisan, and it was only a half day trip from Tokyo.

We took the very first JR Chuo train out of Shinjuku station to Otsuki, where we transferred to Fujiyuko commuter train to Shimoyoshida train station. All along the way, we had a clear view of Mt Fuji and were thrilled that there were no clouds in sight. From Shimoyoshida station, it is a 10 minute walk to the huge tori gate at the entrance of Chureito Pagoda. There are over 400 steps to climb to reach the base of the pagoda, but the view at the end was totally worth each step we climbed. With the beautiful sakura lining our view, we were able to capture the most spectacular photographs of Mt Fuji with Chureito Pagoda and the sakuras in the foreground. We were thrilled that we were able to witness the majesty of this great mountain and were glad that we did not decide against making this trip.




Shinjuku

On our return from Mt.Fuji, we decided to explore the busy streets of Shinjuku, which was the final stop of the JR Chao trains in Tokyo. If Shibuya crossing is to Tokyo what Time Square is to New York, then Shinjuku is the 5th Avenue of Tokyo. The area is filled with shops, restaurants, and entertainment options, including the famous Kabukicho entertainment district, which is home to many bars, nightclubs, and hostess clubs. A popular landmark in this area is the calico cat 3D billboard, located in front of the East entrance of the Shinjuku train station. The billboard features a large 3D image of a calico cat, with its head and paw peeking out from the side of a building. The cat's eyes light up at night, creating a striking and eye-catching display. It offers a fun and unique photo opportunity and a glimpse into the vibrant culture of the area.


Train to Kyoto

Ending our 3 day stint in Tokyo, we took an evening train to Kyoto from Tokyo station. There are numerous shinkansen trains that ply between Tokyo and Kyoto. The JR Rail pass came in handy to reserve our seats and change our reservations in the last minute to the time that was convenient for us. We were extremely impressed by the shinkansen (bullet) trains. Although not as fast as the trains in Europe, these bullet trains look impressive from the outside and the ride is extremely smooth and we never realized when the train was moving or had stopped at a station.



Kyoto

Kyoto is a city located in the Kansai region of Japan and is known for its rich cultural heritage and stunning natural scenery. The city is home to over 2,000 temples and shrines and its historic district, Gion, is a popular destination for tourists, where they can explore traditional Japanese architecture, dine at local restaurants, and catch a glimpse of geisha and maiko (apprentice geisha) walking along the streets. While it was easy to navigate Tokyo by using its complex, yet efficient Metro system, we found it easier to move around Kyoto by using both the local bus as well as the Metro systems.


Where To Stay

We stayed at the Mitsui Garden Hotel Kyoto Kawaramachi Jokyoji, which is a temple hotel, ie. it has a buddhist shrine associated with it. Being a temple hotel, it features a sleek and minimalist design, with comfortable and well-appointed guest rooms that offer a peaceful retreat from the bustling city. The guest rooms here were much larger than the ones in our Tokyo hotel. The hotel's location is convenient for exploring the city, with many popular attractions within walking distance, including the Gion district.




Day 4

Cherry Blossom Boat Tour

The cherry blossom season continued to be at its peak when we moved from Tokyo, southward to Kyoto. The Nanzenji Funadamari cherry blossom boat tour is a popular attraction in Kyoto, that offers us a unique way to experience the beauty of the cherry blossoms in the springtime. The tour takes place on a traditional Japanese boat, known as a "yakatabune," that sails along the canal in the Nanzenji area. The canal is lined with cherry trees, which bloom in beautiful shades of pink and white in the spring, creating a stunning and picturesque scene. The boat tour is a relaxing and peaceful way to take in the sights and sounds of the city. The tour commentary is only in Japanese and the tour lasts for approximately 50 minutes. This is a popular tour, and I had booked it online a couple of weeks ahead of our trip.

The boat dock of the Nanzenji Funadamari cherry blossom boat tour

A traditional Japanese boat, "yakatabune", carrying tourists, floats along a cherry blossom lined canal

Kinkakuji Temple

Kinkakuji Temple, also known as the Temple of the Golden Pavilion, is a stunning Buddhist temple in Kyoto, known for its striking architecture and shimmering gold-leaf exterior. Originally built as a retirement villa for the shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu, the temple was later converted into a Zen Buddhist temple and has since become a popular tourist attraction and UNESCO World Heritage site. We admired the temple's beauty from various vantage points throughout the surrounding garden, which is meticulously landscaped with beautiful trees, flowers, and water features.

Kinkakuji Temple

Traditional Japanese Tea Ceremony

Very close to Kinkakuji Temple, in a traditional Japanese house, is Tea Ceremony Koto , an establishment that offers a traditional Japanese Tea Ceremony experience. For an added fee, we enjoyed the ceremony in a rented Kimono. During the ceremony, we learnt about the history and the different tea-making methods from an English-speaking tea master from Urasenke, the biggest school of tea ceremony in Japan. We also learnt how to make matcha tea and the etiquette of serving tea. We also got to taste "Dango", a Japanese sweet made out of red bean paste and rice flour. Although I booked this experience about a month ahead of my trip, I was unable to get a reservation for the most sought after tea experiences offered by Kyoto Maikoya.

Learning to make matcha tea


The famous "dango" sweet of Kyoto

Nijo Castle

Nijo Castle is a popular tourist destination and has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It offers visitors a glimpse into Japan's rich history and cultural heritage. It was built in 1603 as the residence of the Tokugawa Shoguns, who ruled Japan from the 17th to the 19th century. The castle is surrounded by a moat and a stone wall and is famous for its stunning architecture and intricate design.

One of the most notable features of Nijo Castle is its "nightingale floors," which are designed to make a chirping sound when walked upon. The floors were created to serve as a security measure, as they would alert the inhabitants of any potential intruders.

In addition to its unique floors, Nijo Castle is also known for its beautiful gardens and impressive collection of artwork and artifacts. We explored the various buildings on the grounds, including the Ninomaru Palace, which features stunning paintings and carvings.


The grand entrance to Nijo castle

The white guards house and moat surrounding Nijo castle

The beautiful garden of Nijo Castle

Kiyumizu-dera

Kiyomizu-dera is a historic Buddhist temple known for its impressive wooden structure that juts out from a hillside overlooking the city. The temple was first built in 798 AD, but its current buildings date back to 1633. One of the most unique features of the temple is the large wooden veranda that extends from the main hall, offering stunning views of the surrounding forested hills and the city below. The temple is also renowned for its sacred waterfall, where visitors can drink from the streams believed to have healing properties. During sakura season, it is even more popular for sakura viewing and illumination. The uphill road that leads to the shrine is crowded with souvenir shops and small cafes offering local Japanese delicacies. This tourist attraction is also extremely popular for wedding photoshoots. We planned our visit to coincide with the sunset, when the entire pagoda complex looked even more beautiful against the colors of the setting sun.

Kiyumizu-dera temple complex at sunset

Different views of Kiyumizu-dera pagoda

Gion Walking Tour

Gion is a famous district in Kyoto, known for its traditional wooden houses, narrow streets, and geishas. We booked a walking tour of Gion to explore the district's many sights, sounds, and flavors. The tour typically started near the famous Kabuki theatre in downtown Kyoto, and continued through the historic streets of Gion, which are lined with tea houses, restaurants, and shops selling traditional Japanese goods. Along the way, we saw geishas walking to their appointments. The tour guide gave us a great insight of the life of a geisha in modern day Kyoto. We booked the tour through Kyoto Localized and we loved seeing Kyoto through a local's perspective.


Cherry blossoms along the Tatsumi bridge in Gion

Geishas in Gion


The very first Kabuki theatre in downtown Kyoto



Day 5

Fushimi Inari-taisha

We started our day early to beat the crowds at Fushimi Inari-taisha. Fushimi Inari-taisha is a popular Shinto shrine located in southern Kyoto, famous for its thousands of bright orange torii gates that wind their way up the mountain behind the shrine.The shrine was first built in the 8th century and is dedicated to the god of rice and sake, Inari. We entered the shrine's main gate and walked through a series of smaller shrines and torii gates, each donated by individuals or businesses as a form of prayer or gratitude. The trail led up the mountain and can take several hours to complete. Along the way, we saw beautiful views of Kyoto, sacred fox statues, and small waterfalls. We did not complete the trail and turned back when it was time to visit our next, and most exciting stop.


Entrance to Fushimi Inari-taisha

The orange gates of Fushimi Inari-taisha


Fushimi Inari-taisha temple complex

Samurai Sword Experience

Kyoto is one of the best places in Japan to experience samurai culture, and one of the most unique and exciting ways to do so is by participating in a samurai sword experience. We signed up for this experience through this Maikoya link. The experience took place in the Samurai And Ninja Museum, where we learnt about the history and techniques of samurai sword fighting and even tried our hand at wielding a real samurai sword. We were taught by a skilled instructor, who guided us through the proper techniques of drawing, swinging, and sheathing the sword. We also learned about the different types of swords and their uses throughout history. The experience lasted for two hours, and also included a lesson for Ninja star-throwing. We got to wear traditional samurai clothing for an added immersive effect. A samurai sword experience is a fun and memorable way to learn about Japan's rich martial arts traditions and gain a deeper appreciation for the samurai way of life.


Nara

We dedicated the second half of the day to visit Nara, a city rich in cultural heritage, just an hours train ride from Kyoto. This small town is particularly famous for Todaiji Temple and the bowing Sika deer.


Todaiji Temple

Todaiji Temple is a historic Buddhist temple which was first constructed in the 8th century and is one of Japan's most famous and important temples. It is particularly famous for its Daibutsu, or Great Buddha statue, which is the largest bronze statue of Buddha in the world. The statue stands over 15 meters tall and weighs over 500 tons. It is housed in the temple's Daibutsuden hall, which is one of the largest wooden buildings in the world. The hall itself is an impressive feat of engineering, built using traditional Japanese techniques and without the use of any nails or screws. The temple is a UNESCO World Heritage site and is considered one of Japan's most important cultural treasures.

Todaiji Temple

Nandaimon gate - the largest wooden gate in all of Japan


Nara's Bowing Sika Deer

Around the Todaiji Temple complex roam hundreds of friendly deer, who have a unique habit of bowing. The deer are known to bow to visitors in exchange for a tasty treat of deer crackers, which can be purchased throughout the park. This behavior is believed to have originated from the practice of bowing in Japanese culture as a sign of respect and gratitude. The deer have learned to associate the act of bowing with receiving food from visitors, and will often bow in anticipation of a treat. The deer are considered a cultural treasure in Nara and are protected by the local government. This was a very cute and fun experience for us. Plan your visit early in the day, so the deer are hungry and will show their appreciation when you feed them.



Day 6

We spent the morning doing some last minute shopping for various Japanese handicrafts and souvenirs to take home, before our flight from Narita in the evening. Our Kyoto hotel was located around the corner from Kyoto's main shopping drag, Kawaramachi street and the Takashimaya department store, which made shopping a breeze. Our journey back to Tokyo was a breeze, on the shinkansen, and we caught the Narita Express from Tokyo Station to Narita airport.



In conclusion, traveling to Japan is an incredible experience that offers a unique blend of ancient traditions and modern innovation. From the bustling cities of Tokyo and Kyoto to the serene beauty of Mount Fuji and the Japanese Alps, there is something for every type of traveler. Whether you're a history buff, foodie, or nature lover, Japan has something to offer. With its welcoming people, efficient transportation system, and awe-inspiring sights, it's no wonder that Japan has become a top travel destination for people from all over the world. So pack your bags, grab your camera, and get ready for an adventure of a lifetime in Japan!




コメント


bottom of page